The Role of the Keyworker in a Children’s Home

Date Posted: Wednesday, 9 October 2002

I first wrote this description of the role of the keyworker in a children’s home in 1987 and then I modified it in 1991 in an attempt to harmonise it with the spirit of the Children Act 1989 which was just beginning to be implemented. I think it still has a measure of validity and I present it here in the hope that it will at least provide a starting point for those who are developing the keyworker role to suit the current residential child care climate. I further modified the text in October 2008 following comments made by Jane Kenny which can be found at the end of this article.


A prevalent model in current residential child care is to underpin the work of a children’s home with a keyworker system. The keyworker is the specified residential child care worker who is initially responsible for establishing a relationship with the newly arrived child and creating an attachment with the youngster in order that he or she can begin to feel safe in the home. In some children’s home the keyworker is called a linkworker and I have been told that in one therapeutic community the keyworker is called a guru.

A keyworker is usually, though not always,  appointed for each new child before the child is admitted to the children’s home. This allows time to prepare for the admission to be made in order that the unique needs of the youngster are considered prior to admission.

As well as being responsible for the fundamental task of developing a helpful, caring attachment relationship with a child during his or her stay at the home, the keyworker is also responsible for assuring the consistency and continuity of the care the children’s home provides the child. In doing this the keyworker also has a role in ensuring the involvement of the young person, his family, his school and other community agencies such as the health services in order that the goals of the child’s care plan can be achieved. The keyworker carries out these tasks with the support of her colleagues and with supervision from her designated senior practitioner or her line manager.  In addition to this keyworker works in partnership with the young person’s social worker.
The principal function of the keyworker is from the outset to establish a positive relationship with the young person and over time develop this into a sincere, caring, helpful and healthy child/adult relationship.

This function is constructed of the following  sub-tasks : 

1. To be the nominated welcoming and familiar adult for a particular  young people when he or she is admitted to the  home with the longer term purpose of ensuring the child feels safe and  secure during his or her stay at the home. This includes remembering and celebrating the birthdays of each young person as well as other important family days and any religious festivals.

2. In conjunction with other colleagues to be responsible for the overall  planning for  the young person and for carrying out designated aspects  of the care plan.

3. To co-ordinate information about the young person concerning his or her daily life  in the children’s home and from his or her life history so it  is communicated to  colleagues in a way which represents the  youngster as a whole person rather than a  fragmented and consequently de-personalised one.

4. To communicate the care plan for the young person to colleagues at  the home, to report to them regularly on its progress, and to ensure  that colleagues have a unified approach to carrying out the care plan.

5. Where necessary after consultation with the keyworker’s line manager as well as the young person to co-opt the use of the  special skills of  other colleagues for to carry out particular aspects of the care plan.

6. To ensure that all meetings relating to the young person and his or her  care plan happen at the stated place  and time and to ensure  after consultation with the young person, the line manager/supervisor  and the social worker that the appropriate people are invited to  meetings.

7. Where directed by the line manager/supervisor and through  consultation with the young person to provide written reports on the  progress of the young person’s care plan for review  meetings.

8. To collate, and in consultation with the young person, give information  to all relevant meetings concerning the young person.

9. To be the person who instigates action relating to the young person.

10. To provide advise, counselling, help with problem solving, feed-back  and care plan evaluation to the young person directly and regularly  in  formal keywork sessions and in the life space.

11. To respect the young person’s need for confidentiality in relation to his  or her life experiences and to share information only with those who  have right to know.

12. To be the young person’s advocate in the staff group and where  necessary in   planning, review and group meetings.

13.  To provide a link with the family, school other agencies and the  community, in order to provide the young person with easy access to  her or his natural social setting and the wider community.

14.  To help the young person to prepare for leaving the home when it is the  right time for the youngster to move on.
This is not an exclusive list of tasks and different children’s homes may have additional expectation of their key workers. Staffing arrangements may dictate that some of the tasks catalogued here are shared by all the keyworker’s colleagues.
Charles Sharpe, January, 1987.
Revised, April, 1991 ; October 2008




Jane Kenny writes

I know you say it is not an exclusive list. I thought there should be mention of  the need to remember and to celebrate birthdays and other important family days and any religious festivals relating to the child  I think also there should be some consideration of ‘moving on’ and what is involved in the keyworker’s responsibility to help a child prepare for the end of a placement.

Charles Sharpe replies

These are significant omissions and I will integrate them into the text.

© and Charles Sharpe